August 1, 2009

RISC Summer Meeting

Justin Katz

So I've taken up the invitation to sit at the Press table provided by the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition for its summer meeting (at the Hyatt on Goat Island in Newport — reasoning that it's a way to get a good seat up front without having to sit next to VIPs and speakers. Actually, inasmuch as the program is scheduled to begin at any moment and I'm the only person at the table, it also provides a good position from which to catch audio with a minimum of table shaking and glass clinking. The room is a little smaller than the one down the hall in which RISC held its winter meeting, but once the crowd in the hall filters in, it looks like attendance will prove healthy.

9:15 a.m.

I've been joined at the Press table by Julia Steiny from the Providence Journal, although she slipped away from the table before I had an opportunity to introduce myself. Otherwise, the crowd consists of many familiar faces, including Governor Carcieri, who's making the rounds.

RISC Chairman Harry Staley is giving the opening speech, introducing the new member group from Woonsocket, making a plea for more involvement, and so on.

The Providence Journal's Neil Downing has joined me at the Press table. I do wonder: as an ethical matter, should I take off the "I've joined the R.I. Revolt!" sticker on my shirt, given my seating?

9:39 a.m.

RISC Vice President & Secretary Harriet Lloyd officially unveiled the new RISC Web site, through which 7,000 emails have already been sent to legislators. RISC President James Beale ran through some official business that the group's bylaws require. And Board of Regents member Angus Davis is filling in for that group's chairman, Robert Flanders, who was unable to make it here for his speech.

Davis shared the anecdote of a two-time teacher of the year in Providence who, due to bumping, was also a two-time layoff victim.

10:01 a.m.

I've been having some technology glitches while Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist has been speaking. She began by saying that the number 1 question that people ask her is: "Why did you come here." She says that she came here "to make a difference." (Of course, I'm sure the unprecedented paycheck had something to do with it.)

"The students across Rhode Island have to be achieving at higher levels."

On economic and racial levels, "we have some of some of the highest achievement gaps in the country," which she says is a violation of their civil rights. I wonder how the progressive NEA feels about that.

"We're the ninth highest in state investment in education."

"The most important factor in a child's education is the quality of the teacher."

Mentioned bumping. Suggested more evaluation of everybody, from her right down to teachers.

"We have brought [the teachers] into this broken system."

She did not, however, use the "U" word. "There are models" for improving children's performance. Somehow she's gotten around to talking about world class teachers in excellent schools. The only time she's coming close to using specifics is to talk about "using data effectively," although she's not giving examples about what sort of data she means.

"We need a funding formula for Rhode Island schools." She said that we need money to "follow the child," but she didn't suggest anything that would define that beyond a bland talking point.

Consolidation... food, transportation, blah, blah, blah.

"Some people [around Rhode Island] are a little discouraged." You may have picked up on the fact that this is not the speech that I was hoping to hear.

She's done, and people are giving her a standing ovation, but I'm really not sure why.

10:27 a.m.

Next up, Jordan Forbes, Federal Government Affairs Manager of the National Taxpayers Union.

"Tax incentives are great, but do nothing for long-term tax policies."

Rhode Island "is in a good position," given its location and natural attributes. She recommends Heritage Foundation principles:

1. Not all tax cuts are created equal: they must improve incentives to work, invest, and save.
2. The change in tax rate matters, not the size of the cut.
3. Consumer spending is a consequence of growth, not a cause of growth.
4. Long-term tax policy is the best short-term stimulus.

Governor Carcieri has, as ever, offered to speak (as I promised Neil Downing he would).

The one reason the governor's tax plan (which the previous speaker lauded) didn't come to be was that we just didn't have enough people in the statehouse who believed in its benefits.

"I've got a year and a half left, and I'm not stopping on this one."

At last: the governor introduced the "U" word to the conversation, in the context of the forces against which RISC must stand as a "countervailing force."

Governor Carcieri pointed out East Providence School Committee Chairman Anthony Carcieri and noted that the difficult things they're going through in that town are necessary for the changes that have to happen.

10:39 a.m.

Regarding the budget: "The reality is that we did pretty well on this budget." Although, the General Assembly gave the executive branch a $70 million "lump" to find.

Not surprisingly, the governor predicts that the unions will lose their pension-related lawsuit.

He mentioned that the flat-tax remained, but that the capital gains tax cuts fell away. He expressed hope that Massachusetts shoppers will begin coming to Rhode Island thanks to a 25% increase in their sales tax. (Of course, they're still lower than Rhode Island's.)

We'll be seeing in the next few weeks that the $70 million "lump" is going to have to come from state employees in some way.

"I think we should have a defined contribution [retirement] program for new hires."

10:43 a.m.

"The 39 cities and towns are spending over $3 billion per year — 50% more than the state."

"The vast majority of the spending of the state is actually being done by the cities and towns."

I see no indication on Ms. Gist's face that she understands that the majority of that money goes to the schools, and the majority of that money is allocated to union teachers.

10:47 a.m.

The consequence, according to the governor, is that further cuts are going to have to come from cities and towns. One possibility is consolidation, citing Aquidneck Island.

10:53 a.m.

Although he's emphasized that the state government did not raise broad-based taxes, he hasn't noted that RI government spending increased some 12%.

Indoor prostitution loophole is a "black eye" for the state. "I know it's the ACLU."

"Good news: wind power."

As an aside, the long-running litany of accomplishment that the governor, as a political leader, runs through with each speech belie the trouble that this state is actually in. My impression of this meeting, so far, is that there still is nowhere near the necessary heat and ire (not a typo) necessary.

For example, the governor just said: "We're pushing a boulder up hill. The good news: it's moving. The bad news: you can't stop pushing or that baby rolls back downhill."

Wrong. We're mildly slowing the descent. It's not enough. We have to turn things around.

Another standing ovation.

11:23 a.m.

The Q&A moves along:

Bruce Lang: "There's not a business in America that could afford the sorts of fringe benefits that public employees get."

"How do we win this battle?"

My muttered answer: We don't. We're going under. Then we have to build up again.

The governor's answer. We need the counterbalancing voice to the unions, which (again) he states is acting in an understandable self-interest.

"Shame on us if we can't figure out how to get more votes, because that's the only way we're going to win.

Brian Bishop of Ocean State Policy Research Institute disliked the mention of racial balancing from Ms. Gist. She stated disagreement, but I might not be alone in having missed something in Brian's question.

Sue Story just expressed dismay at the possibility of binding arbitration for teachers. RISC's Jim Beale stated that RISC has radio ads against such a thing ready to go whenever the General Assembly reconvenes.

Steve Santos of the East Providence School Committee seconded the opposition to that sort of legislation. Beale thinks the RI Senate has heard the message. I think we've moved to talking about the legislation to maintain contract terms before renegotiation.

Best line of the meeting comes from Harry Staley. On the topic of folks who might be thinking about running for state office: "If you don't think you're qualified, spend a day up there." Then he qualified: "Present company excluded, of course."

11:43 a.m.

A question about controlling school district fiefdoms didn't elicit an exciting answer from Deborah Gist. She said that her authority comes mainly from results, as when a district isn't performing adequately. Again "data" and "models" made an appearance in the response.

Anthony Carcieri is asking how Ms. Gist intends to implement "pay for performance" in Rhode Island.

"I think it's really important that we recognize our excellent teachers." "This is another of those really complicated issues." She's going to make sure we have goals and that there will be some connection between remuneration and student results.

Anthony Carcieri: "What about contracts in reference to that."

Gist: "That's where it starts to get complicated." The state's policies must actually be implemented at the local level.

It occurs to me that the state could increase the bind on districts and towns to force them to make big — and public — decisions on which voters can pass judgment. The Ed Commissioner could also use the bully pulpit... say to oppose the Caruolo Act. (Yeah, I know, crazy talk.)

Here's hoping it was the freezing temperature at which the hotel keeps this room that made my "R.I. Revolt" sticker fall off a few moments ago.

And the meeting comes to a close.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

How surprising. Justin is disappointed that state officials didn't come armed with pitchforks and that the Governor didn't declare unions illegal in Rhode Island. Yawn.

Posted by: Pragmatist at August 1, 2009 11:43 AM

Thanks for reading, Pragmatist. Always value your participation .

Posted by: Justin Katz at August 1, 2009 11:59 AM

"It occurs to me that the state could increase the bind on districts and towns to force them to make big — and public — decisions on which voters can pass judgment." What? Is this sentiment- The State forces communities to knuckle under - an example of Justin's and AR's definition of small government? Small as in small on values and integrity? I was going to ask Justin how he can look himself in the mirror, but I quess a reflecting pool is more in order.

Posted by: David at August 1, 2009 9:08 PM

While Justin was wondering if he should remove a revolting sticker from his shirt I was removing my clothes and donning work clothes and rubber apron at my oyster lease in Narragansett Bay. At roughly the time that wealthy retirees Staley and Beale of risc were addressing the gathering at Goat Island a little ways up the Bay I was removing caged oysters and sorting and rebagging under a merciless sky.
In the eleventh hour my only question was if I should spend some time in the water arranging cages while the tide was still low enough to permit that activity or just continue to dump oysters from their bags and thereby finish my work and get a little time off this weekend. The upper bay opens tomorrow and I will be there at 530 AM to dig quahogs. I'll have to check the DEM's message of closures by phone and hope that the recording has not changed.
Apparently work was not on the minds of those supplying the questions at the Goat Island meeting but rather how to screw those that work. By the way is the Steve Santos mentioned here any relation to the Kathy Santos who authored the "Enraged Citizen" piece? Just wondering. Finally wrapping up the work on deck and will struggle to move cages in the water for a while. It's difficult though with the rising tide and the all too frequent giant wakes rolling in caused by the huge pleasure boats traveling south towards the waterfront homes of risc members and of course on this day towards the air conditioned comfort of the Hyatt on Goat Island.

Posted by: Phil at August 1, 2009 9:26 PM

Boy, David, if you break out the "how do you look at yourself in the mirror" retort to me, I wonder what you reserve for people who do really terrible things... assuming you believe there to be things more terrible than extemporaneous writing on a state-level blog. Perhaps you'll excuse my suggesting that your dislike of me is probably not healthy.

Since I'm not sure where your response begins and your spite ends, I hesitate to attempt an answer that assumes the sincerity of your language, but if the state were to withdraw the ability of school districts to take their towns to state court, that would increase the bind in a small-government way. If the state were to make the (quite rational) statement that local contracts cannot be binding on state aid and, therefore, the state's money must go to such things as ensuring that schools don't eliminate just about all sports and extracurricular activities (as in Woonsocket), that would be consistent with principles of dispersed government tiers (another aspect of small government). Similarly if the state were to withdraw money from districts that canceled textbook purchases even as well-paid employees contribute little toward their healthcare.

If our opinions had more consequence, I'd turn your question about reflections back on you. My motivation is to shake a failing system that is a travesty for our children and a death spiral for our state. It's certainly possible that I'm wrong in my assessment of the problems or the prescriptions of my philosophy, but that would be a prudential error, not a moral one.

What motivates your hatred, I wonder? What insidious plot do you believe me to be scheming to further?

Posted by: Justin Katz at August 1, 2009 9:27 PM

Yeah, Phil, because I never work and you never do anything other than work. Right.

Go along over to RI Future and present your diatribe to the soft-handed "organizers" over there.

Posted by: Justin Katz at August 1, 2009 9:30 PM

Awesome job, Justin - and on the long selection of audio clips.

Posted by: Monique at August 1, 2009 9:43 PM

"I'm sure the unprecedented paycheck had something to do with it."

... I was going to point out all of the wonderful things that Woonsocket's unprecedently compensated, recently retired superintendent brought to that city. But perhaps that would be hasty and unwarranted at this early stage.

Posted by: Monique at August 1, 2009 9:49 PM

Oh, quess I got the katz's goat. Just why do you spend so much time at Tiverton town and school committee meetings? Why not just go petition the state to force Tiverton to do what you want it to. I prefer local control- and I usually don't agree with what's done. But it seems to have the flavor of democracy. I have learned to accept compromise with my neighbors. Local government is the essence of a democratic approach. But you, if you don't get your way, well let the state or the court or the Feds force the issue. You didn't say this? The state does not give to the local communities-- that which it has taken. Mandates unfunded have no strings.

Posted by: David at August 1, 2009 9:50 PM

It's difficult for local democratic forces to function when the district is negotiating with state and national union reps literally at the table and then can force elected town officials who lack the power to set school budgets to fund them. Using Tiverton as a specific example, it's difficult to battle those forces when the school committee gives hundreds of thousands of dollars away to union members during a deep, deep recession and then disregards very specific instructions from electors after state and federal governments take those electors tax dollars by a different means and filter them back down.

I'd prefer that the state butt out, but it's definitely unacceptable for the state always to be facilitating the corrupt and damaged system while barring democratic pressure from taxpayers (as your complaint against me would imply). Ms. Gist noted the difficulty of having her powers filter through the local level, where contracts and the like are actually determined. I'm merely stating that where the state fronts money, it shouldn't be in a position of letting local officials get away with poor decision making.

How you turn this around to make me out to be running to large government when it suits me, I don't know. It's a bit like forgetting that angles on a chop box are measured off the 90-degree mark.

And if you got a little thrill out of the feeling that you "got my goat," but I'd suggest, again, that it's an unhealthy hatred that leads one to poke somebody in the eye and then giggle at a reasoned response.

Posted by: Justin Katz at August 1, 2009 10:06 PM

David, in our continuing search for common ground here at AR, we can assume from your remarks about the "flavor of democracy" above that you are a supporter of repealing the Caruolo Act, right?

Posted by: Andrew at August 1, 2009 11:12 PM

I guess Deborah Gist earned a place on the S-list pretty quickly.
Having a state education superintendent who is interested in more than union bashing is a real problem, I guess. She'll have to start trashing teachers to earn that paycheck, right?

Posted by: rhody at August 2, 2009 2:12 AM


Thanks for the welcome. I'm always curious to read your latest out of touch screed. You're no Monique, but you do have your own unique and remarkable way of distorting what it means to be a conservative.

Posted by: Pragmatist at August 2, 2009 3:07 AM

"Mandates unfunded have no strings."

Are you kidding? Or just not paying attention? Most of what the state make's localities do are in the form of unfunded mandates. It's not that they'll take away funding for the unfunded mandates, it's that they hold everything else related to the way that schools are financed and managed hostage.

Example #1: Bus monitor mandate. How much is the state chipping in for that? Special education funding. Don't even get me started.

PS To answer someone else's question, Kathy Santos is Steve's wife. Or more accurately, Steve is Kathy's husband. Kathy has been involved in all manner of grassroots stuff from since way before Steve became a school committee member a few years ago. I'm just glad she's on our side.

Posted by: Will at August 2, 2009 3:25 AM

Actually, the room was the larger ballroom - much larger than the winter meeting and full of Rhode Islanders. Just being accurate. Great meeting and thanks to AR for covering it!

Posted by: Harriet at August 2, 2009 8:05 AM

Justin -
Thank you for your coverage of this important meeting. Your efforts are appreciated by many.
Interesting how frequently comments are made by those who disagree and try to insult you.
Further your remark - "it's difficult to battle those forces when the school committee gives hundreds of thousands of dollars away to union members during a deep, deep recession and then disregards very specific instructions from electors after state and federal governments take those electors tax dollars by a different means and filter them back down" is right on key, and provided clarity to ongoing reform led by the Governor, RISC , and the Taxpayers groups.
David Nelson - President TCC

Posted by: David Nelson at August 2, 2009 9:43 AM

>>I guess Deborah Gist earned a place on the S-list pretty quickly. Having a state education superintendent who is interested in more than union bashing is a real problem, I guess. She'll have to start trashing teachers to earn that paycheck, right?

It is not union bashing to Advocate for the best interests of the future generation, via world class education which is the single best way to enable youth to realize their full potential, and put "disadvantaged" youth on that ladder of upward mobility.

The teachers unions - in philosophy and practice - are the single greatest impediment to achieving quality education. Moreover, every indication is that they are determined to remain part of the problem, not part of the solution. As such, they are institutional exploiters of children.

Until the teachers unions are banished from Rhode Island, or at least rendered impotent and irrelevant, no public school in Rhode Island will ever realize its full potential, and neither will any child enrolled in a public school.

So for Ms. Gist to ignore that child exploiting union elephant in the room is disconcerting, to say the least.

Posted by: Tom W at August 2, 2009 10:26 AM

>>By the way is the Steve Santos mentioned here any relation to the Kathy Santos who authored the "Enraged Citizen" piece? Just wondering.

They are spouses.

Though as far as I know, Kathy has not remunerative position with East Providence.

Not like, say, Mrs. Sheldon Whitehouse's six-figure "consulting" job with the Democrat General Assembly. You know, wife of the same guy who gave the no-bid contingency lawsuit "contract" to the law firm of the RI Democratic Party's treasurer.

Or not like, say, Magistrate Ms. Harwood, appointed to a six-figure lifetime position (the only "lifetime Magistrate position?) - announced and sworn in during inattentive news cycle of the week between Christmas and New Years, by the Presiding Justice of the Supreme Court ... who later went on to attend the State House unveiling of the oil portrait of "his friend" Speaker John Harwood ... who later went on to retire after swearing in his daughter to replace him on the Superior Court.

Yeah, no concern with "avoiding even the appearance of impropriety" among Rhode Island's Democrats ... after all, our "appearance of impropriety" is the Democrats' "business as usual."

Posted by: Tom W at August 2, 2009 10:36 AM

Right, Tom, but the Dems who complained about Mrs. Harwood's post get panned at dissidents or namby-pamby liberals.
I was as happy as anyone on either side of the political fence to see Pucky leave the House.

Posted by: rhody at August 2, 2009 1:31 PM

Tom Wah Wah and Will

That's for answering the question about the Santos clan. You two have turned out to be useful after all.


I just finished a nap after quahogging this morning. No regrettablly the area I wanted to work was indeed closed as I suspected it may be after the most recent rainfall. The tunnel does seem to be working but this has been an especially wet summer.
Thanks for reading what you refer to as a tirade. I don't agree with you on that charcterization. I reflected a little this morning on your suggestion ....

Yeah, Phil, because I never work and you never do anything other than work. Right.

Go along over to RI Future and present your diatribe to the soft-handed "organizers" over there.

Posted by Justin Katz at August 1, 2009 9:30 PM

......that I go over to another blog. I'll admit that doing that does have an allure. Joe Bernstein is over there. The writing on average is much better there too. There's no sycophantic comments that end up proving to be a measurable fraction of total comments over there. Their guest commentary pieces blows yours away. But somehow I think I'll stick around anyway. That may point to some mental defect on my part or it may have something to do with the fact that for most days I spend time on my boat with only shellfish, crabs, and seagulls.

Posted by: Phil at August 2, 2009 4:01 PM

"but the Dems who complained about Mrs. Harwood's post get panned at dissidents or namby-pamby liberals."

Not by me or any of the good gov't people I know, Rhody.

Love those intergalactic searches for someone to fill a six figure state job that end right back here in little Rhody at the family member of someone connected.

Posted by: Monique at August 2, 2009 4:39 PM

(In the interest of avoiding an infringement of trademark lawsuit, let the record show that the excellent term "intergalactic search" was originally coined by TomW.)

Posted by: Monique at August 2, 2009 5:20 PM

Andrew, yes. The Caruolo Act does not bring about the results the intervention intended. There have been towns that are so poorly administered that I can appreciate the effort of lawmakers to become involved. I just do not think it is the right approach. And I know the freight behind the pro and anti Caruolo Act.

Posted by: David at August 2, 2009 5:37 PM
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